Moneo en sazón

Lessons from Barcelona

Eduardo Prieto 

An academic void created by political tribulations led Rafael Moneo to Barcelona in 1971. This was good for Barcelona’s architecture school but perhaps bad for Madrid’s. As for Moneo, the Barcelona years saw the full ripening of his professional genius (marked by Bankinter in Madrid and Logroño City Hall), but also the blooming of his commitment to both intellect (he soon became one of the protagonists of the magazine ArquitecturasBis) and academe, as explained in this book published in Barcelona.

Its purpose, in theory limited, is to compile in a single, 500-page volume the written material pertaining to the subject Moneo taught, Elements of Composition, that he presented when vying for the chair, along with exercises assigned from 1971 to 1976, some doctoral lesson, and notes on diverse themes that were also published in booklets of the kind then habitually issued in architecture schools.

But after over four decades, what might have remained a mere collection of anecdotes becomes a major document not only of how Moneo understood architecture at the time (essentially now too, he says in the foreword), but also of the complex panorama of the discipline in the 1970s, marked by tensions between the search for an objective design of sociological roots, the pressing sensitivity for the environmental, the rather tedious influence of semiotic studies, and the interest taken in architecture’s history and more disciplinary aspects.

This book can thus be considered a book about a Moneo still unknown of, but who already had the intellectual tools that would make him famous. And it is also a book about the Zeitgeist, with the Navarrese architect sometimes a spokesman, other times a critic, of the ideas then circulating in the discipline. So in the record of his Barcelona teachings Moneo avoids the term ‘elements of composition’ in favor of the broader and more contemporary ‘principles of design,’ in the process X-raying all the currents of the period, briefly but sure-footedly and insightfully. Such is the precision and breadth of views that Moneo demonstrated then. As for the exercises assigned in class, here he proved a skillful tracer of design problems, for which he used a variety of models, from Voysey to Krier by way of Le Corbusier, Aalto, or Alexander; a miscellaneous cast in itself a symptom of the fertile intellectual eclecticism that was then already a stamp of the house: an ever alert eclecticism that could be seen as a fruit of Moneo’s thirst for learning.

Also fruits of this thirst – intact in his 80-year-old self – are the essays included in the book, on diverse themes. Prominent is the essay where he explains Rossi’s ideas on the occasion of the 1974 project for the Modena cemetery: an early writing where Moneo deploys his gifts as a critic and bravely speaks on the work of his colleagues, which, translated in 1976 in Oppositions, was the first major text on Rossi ever to be published in the USA.

More than a testimony for historians, these ‘lessons from Barcelona’ are a great introduction to Moneo’s intellectual universe. It’s a must.

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